Thursday, May 8, 2008

What does it mean that Jesus is our "one mediator"?

A writing buddy of mine is struggling right now. Please pray for "J." She is casting longing looks across the Tiber, and can't figure out how to reconcile her understanding of what she believes about the all-sufficient work of Christ and what the Church teaches about the communion of the saints ... especially the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother.

Ah, I know exactly how she feels. I say that without a trace of smugness, and with great anticipation. I can see that her heart is opening to truth, and it is like watching a new life being brought into the world (or so I imagine).

There may be others who, stumbling upon this post, have similar questions to those which my friend sent my way today. And so, for your benefit, I'm going to post a good part of my reply.

Here were some of her questions:

* How can we say that there is one mediator -- Christ -- if we can pray to the saints?
* How is prayer different from worship?
* How is it that Catholics can pray to Mary without insulting the Lord, or His supreme place in our hearts?
* How can I call Mary my "mother" without dishonoring my own mother?
* (This is my favorite) How can you be so open about your own journey? Aren't you afraid of what people will say to you who don't agree?

If you look up the word "pray" in the dictionary, you'll see that the original meaning of the word was not "worship," but "ask" or "entreat." To Catholics, as it was to Jews before us, the heart of worship is not prayer alone, but sacrifice. In our case, the sacrifice of the Mass. It is within this context that we worship, we adore ... we are transformed. When we pray, we are asking ... Like any family, who we ask depends on what we need. Sometimes we ask our Father or His Son. Sometimes we ask Mary our spiritual mother. Sometimes we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, here or in heaven.

You ask how it is that I speak so openly with people. In order to reach this place in my life I've had to be stripped many times over. I know what it is to put on spiritual pretenses with people, how it wounds and alienates. This kind of insidious spiritual pride does great damage within the body of Christ. And it is pointless, because the one who knows and loves us best, sees it all and loves us anyway.

We love Mary because JESUS loves Mary. We love Mary because God CHOSE Mary to be the mother of His Son, and because Jesus gave her to us from the cross (see John 19). What son do you know gets insulted when you pay tribute to his mother? No good son does ... especially Jesus, who even in glory continues to "Honor your father and your mother."

None of us would make it to heaven without the atoning work of Christ. In that sense, he is the one and only mediator between God and man. The Catholic faith fully assents to this, without equivocation. At the same time, we must be careful what meaning we ascribe to "mediator."

* It doesn't mean that Jesus is the only one who can intercede for us. If that were true, we could not ask anyone else to pray for us, for any reason.

* It doesn't mean that ours is a passive salvation. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." "Put on the whole armor of Christ ... that you may stand."

* It doesn't mean that those believers who have gone before us to heaven are unable to pray for us, or are cut off from us like those who die without the hope of Christ. "He who believes in me shall never die."

It DOES mean that we must be willing to make ourselves like children again, to step into the light we have been given and trust God for the rest. It DOES mean that we may be called to lay aside some of our most cherished assumptions about who God is and how He operates, as we are given additional light and discover that what we have always thought ... is not consistent with what the first Christians believed, or what the apostles taught.

The Church teachings on Mary originate from the earliest councils of the Church, developed alongside the great Christological and Trinitarian dogmas of the 3-5th centuries. The first Church Fathers ... Ignatius and Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine ... all believed the same things the Church teaches now about Mary being the ever-virgin, immaculate Mother of God.

"Enter through the narrow gate ... for narrow is the path that leads to life, and only the few who find it." It means laying down the compulsion to have everything make sense within our particular intellectual parameters, and trusting God to lead. For He is infinite Mystery ... and we are poor and blind.

And that, dear sister, is why we lean on Mary. Not because Jesus is insufficient. But because WE are simply incapable of seeing the light at times, even when it shines right in front of us. "To Jesus through Mary." She is every bit as human as we are. She knows the pitfalls, though by the grace of God (and her Son's merits) she was kept from falling into them.

Do not let fear or pride rule in your heart. Trust God... and trust your spiritual mother. The same spiritual mother who took your own dear mother by the hand and led her to the Father. As an adoptive mother, I can assure you that there is room in every child's heart for more than one kind of mother's love.

Praying for you, always listening.